Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Unpacking the Idea of Deep Relationship

This week is a big one in the Colwell/Coehoorn world. Maggie’s first birthday is on Sunday, April 29. And today, it really sunk in. We’ve been through a lot.

When I got home from work there was a stack of cards on the counter top in the kitchen. One of them included the line, “You and Stephen have been through more emotionally than almost anyone can understand.” This person could not have been more right. We’ve been through a ton emotionally. This is the most obvious challenge we’ve faced, so it’s the first thing most people think about. But there have been even bigger struggles that most don’t know or ask about. What about our spiritual welfare? How about our marriage?

I’m happy to announce that our marriage is strong, and I feel like I have better spiritual clarity than ever before. But Joy brought up an interesting point a few nights ago when we realized that no one has asked about our spiritual wellbeing or our marriage over the last year. Why aren’t people worried about that? That was an eye opener.

I’ve had a lot of quality discussions with friends and spiritual advisors lately about the spiritual journey I’m on and the questions I’m asking. The discussions inevitably turn to my desire for deeper relationship. A friend mentioned recently that not everyone has the same desire for deep relationship, and that not everyone is looking for the same depth in a church that I am. So I want to unpack that a little bit and tell where I’m coming from.

I believe God demands depth from our relationships. The simple fact that this is something that is “offered” in small groups and programs instead of being the standard really troubles me. True community has become an option instead of the norm, and we should be ashamed of this.

(Before I go any further I have to acknowledge that there are people and groups that are doing Godly community well. I admire them and what they have. I just haven’t seen it made a priority in the churches I’ve been part of.)

I’m not asking people to do something to benefit me. I’m simply looking at the model God laid out for us in scripture and asking where we went wrong. I understand selling all we have and living together the way the first century church in Acts 2 and 4 did isn’t a practical model in today’s society, but who ever said Christianity was supposed to follow rules of practicality? What if we gave up of our time to build true, deep, selfless relationships so we could give ourselves to each other in every way possible? What if we were able to pour ourselves into each other’s lives recklessly? Wouldn’t this take a step towards being more of what we are called to be?

A friend recently hit the nail on the head when he said, “You want people in your life who will pour themselves into your hurt.” This is exactly what I desire. And I believe it’s what God calls us to be for each other.

The further the calendar takes me away from Maggie’s death the more clearly I see what has been missing. I don’t believe our web of friends and acquaintances ever tried to neglect us, but even without that effort it happened. I believe this is due to the lack of depth I’ve been writing about. If we truly love each other and know the hurts of our brothers and sisters intimately we can’t help but put ourselves in a place to be emotionally, spiritually and physically helpful. When our relationships only go as deep as the surface level, so does our support to each other.

The piece of this that scares me even more is this: if we are unable to be a solid support in physical and emotional needs, are we supporting each other spiritually? Do we hurt enough for our brother and sisters to go through discomfort ourselves to help them?

It’s no mistake that the church is referred to as a family - that we call each other brother and sister. Who is most willing to support you and take care of you in times of need? It should be your family. We should know our family intimately. We should love each other despite faults and struggles and sacrifice our own comforts to hold them up in times of struggle.

American Christianity has let too many things get in the way. Surface level relationships, the attempt to squeeze all of what a church should be into Sunday morning and the desire for huge church bodies are just a few of the obstacles that we’ve welcomed into our fellowships that keep deep relationship from happening. So what do we do?

Joy and I had dinner with friends a few nights ago, and we talked about all of these things. We all acknowledged that these obstacles are alive and well in our own church. I ended the night with this question, and I’ll pose it to you now.

“If we know all of these things are happening and we can pinpoint what they are, why do we allow it to continue? Why do we stand by and let it happen?”


  1. For a long time I wondered why there was a piece of me that just longed for something deeper. I grew up knowing God and meeting him at different intersections of my life. I know that my purpose and meaning come from Him but I desired more. I felt empty in places and yearned for something bigger. I got to a point where I decided that it was a missing piece that can only be reunited within the gates of Heaven. So I wrote it all off to something that I could not obtain on Earth. Although I feel like this has some underlying truth I know see that I am missing out. Missing out on something that is God designed and wrote up in my blue prints. And it's exactly what you're hitting on. Community. True community. Not meals when we’re sick or a signed card from the church office; but a living breathing commitment to each other. A place where my stuff and your stuff is blurred and an avenue to wear sorrow, joy, and hope as a group. Death is the scariest within the walls of a church building because if we don't feel hope there we're out of luck. I’m not talking frilly pink clouds and bunny tail fluff but true hope that rests only in a God who comes near and a God that is truly crazy about us. If we are truly ambassadors and the embodiment of Christ then how do we miss it within in our "church"? I feel like it is a responsibility to demand walls to tumble and our hearts to love deeper. I don’t think God gives us a choice and I don't think we can survive without it. Thank you so much for sharing this deep cancer that lurks in our own lives along with the people we share this life with. Lets not give up challenging ourselves and the people around us to live deeper inside of one another’s lives.

  2. this topic is a difficult one that i struggle with in my own life. it is hurtful to me to realize that most people (while they may long for depth in their relationship with God and others) are not willing to put forth the effort, or suffer the vulnerability, required to achieve that depth.
    my current strategy is to struggle on and trust that God will place people in my life who are also longing for depth.

  3. These are the exact words my heart has been searching for recently. I feel many times there is just something missing - a depth in relationships among family. Thank you for sharing your struggle Stephen.

  4. Thanks everyone for your comments. I know others are struggling with this stuff, so it feels good to have it confirmed!

  5. Stephen, I have been reading your blog for some time now as the link was passed on through Katherine, with whom I used to work. The words you've written that are weighing on your heart are words that need to be spoken. I can attest to this as a person who knows it from the perspective of what you wish was the norm, not the exception to the rule in today's church. My husband and I went through some rough times a few years ago. Our marraige was failing but God had placed us in a church body that was small enough that we could not hide what we were going through. It soon became apparent that my husband was fighting through alcoholism and really burned some bridges with those in our church body through his actions. Amazingly enough, no one turned their back on him. People continued to ask the tough questions. People continued to pray for us. People continued to open their homes to him as I had asked him to find someplace else to stay while we worked on things. Our church leadership met with us often, and when the leadership couldn't others in our LIFEgroup did. When he came back from the program he committed himself to, 4 families gave him a place to stay for a week at a time while another family counseled us by giving up their Sunday afternoons for 2 months to make sure we were in a place that would lead to success when we finally moved back in together. He's been back home for over a year now and my family has welcomed him back with open arms (meaning both my biological family and my family in Christ). People still ask the tough questions. People still pray for us and meet with us to know us on an intimate level that would not allow for anything but transparency. Our phones ring and our door continues to be knocked on, on a regular basis because people are willing to give of their time to minister to our family. There are those in our Body who have sacrificed financially to send us on a marraige retreat this summer so that we can continue to grow our relationship in positive ways. Because the concern and questioning by those around us has been there since we started to walk through that dark valley, we know that their concern comes from nothing more than a biblical concern and love for our family. I pray that we have the opportunity to share our story of how the Body of Christ was the piece of the puzzle that allowed for complete restoration of our family. I pray that other churches do not fail to recognize the needs of those in the body and that the Body of Christ will have the impact on our society that He fully intended it to have. Please keep asking the tough questions. Please keep fighting to find a place of true community that will serve your family and that will be a place that your family can serve others through deep relationships. Be encouraged and take heart, for this is what Christ desires for his children.